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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 854


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (18:28): Let me begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people as the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and acknowledging their elders past and present. Let me also acknowledge that this is, was and always will be Aboriginal land.

I would like to acknowledge the wonderful contributions from Senator Dodson and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy for what were very powerful presentations. Let me also acknowledge the leaders of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, who are in the gallery today. Thank you so much for what was a very moving tribute this morning at the presentation of the Redfern Statement, which I will come to in a moment.

The tragic fact is that once again the government's figures in the ninth annual Closing the gap report have underlined our failures as a nation to move forward in any substantial way in Closing the Gap targets. We are still lagging behind on so many of those critical indicators—six of seven unchanged. We lag way behind on the life expectancy gap, on access to justice, on employment, on school attendance and on basic core measures such as child mortality and life expectancy. This report is another wake-up call to the nation.

Today we heard from the leaders of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples that Aboriginal people have the solutions, and we had the Redfern Statement presented to the Prime Minister this morning. The Redfern Statement is a statement that says we need a new approach. We need to redefine the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and government. The Redfern Statement is named after that powerful moment when Paul Keating made the self-evident yet controversial call to the nation that it was we who did the dispossessing—that this nation was founded on an act of theft, an act of dispossession.

It is important that we acknowledge that fact—that it is we, the non-Indigenous people, who have done the killing, the colonising, the discriminating and the dispossessing. That is not a black armband view of history. That is not guilt. That is justice, and that is what this is about. This is about achieving justice. It is so critical that we look at the Redfern Statement, take it seriously and recognise that the emphasis on self-determination, which is an undisputed right in international law, has never been afforded to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country, and it is about time we did something to address that.

It is self-evident as to why we need to act. From the moment of the Redfern statement, we have seen report after report—the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report, the Bringing them home report, the State of reconciliation in Australia report and many more—highlighting the failures that reflect the fact that this country is yet to achieve justice when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who first introduced the annual Closing the gap statement, made a profound gesture when he made that apology in the parliament, and I was privileged to be there as an ordinary person in the crowd on the lawns of Parliament House. It was so moving and so powerful.

It was important that, for the first time, we put in place measures to judge how much progress we are making when it comes to closing the gap. Yet, as the former Prime Minister himself said only yesterday, he fears another stolen generation. We are seeing child removal rates continuing to increase, and we have seen a succession of government policy that is the antithesis to the statement that was made today to the Prime Minister—the paternalistic intervention into the Northern Territory.

We have seen the destruction of community development employment programs, we have seen the undermining of housing policies that assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we have seen half a billion dollars ripped out of Indigenous affairs under this government in the 2014 budget and, of course, we have seen the controversial Indigenous Advancement Strategy, where we are seeing so many Aboriginal people lose out to big government departments, again, with that heavy-handed paternalistic over-the-top response. Well, this is a wake-up call. We do not have the answers. It is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have the solutions.

It is tempting for us in this place to think we know best. As I said in my speech this morning, as a young medical graduate—a young GP—walking into an Aboriginal health service, I thought I knew it all. I had read books, I had done a course and I was going to go in there and help fix things. But if there is any one lesson I took out of that experience, it is that you must work with Aboriginal people, listen to their voices and their stories and understand that before you can do anything.

Last year I was privileged to attend the celebration, with the Gurindji people, of the famous Wave Hill strike. That was an act of defiance where the Gurindji people walked off the Wave Hill cattle station. They did so against the advice of governments, bureaucrats, policymakers and, indeed, the church. It was a sign that Aboriginal people told us loudly and clearly: we know best for us; don't tell us what to do. It was a significant moment. It was a moment that transformed not just the lives of the Gurindji but also the nation. It took much more hard work and years of advocacy before we saw Gough Whitlam pour the sand into the hands of Vincent Lingiari, which should have signalled the beginning of a new wave, but sadly here we are. There has been limited progress in achieving what is at the heart of the Closing the gap report: justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Prime Minister said last year, 'We need to be making change with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, not to them,' and that is exactly what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders from across the nation are saying. People from health, justice, violence prevention, disability and children and family sectors are coming together in the Redfern Statement—a statement supported by over 50 Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups across a wide variety of sectors. It is a plan for engagement with government. It is an ambitious plan, but it needs to be ambitious if we are to make progress, and I urge the government and the opposition to support the schedule—the detailed plans—laid out in the Redfern Statement and to recognise that, in doing so, they have the full support of the Australian Greens.

In the parliament, we Greens have had a longstanding commitment to collaboration and to respecting the knowledge and wisdom of Aboriginal people and an Aboriginal led approach. My colleague Senator Siewert here is someone who has, for more than a decade in this place, been a proud ally and friend of the many organisations who added their names this morning to the calls for a new way forward. We know what needs to be done. There are so many things that we can do at a practical level—for example, delivering culturally safe high-quality health care in the country.

Let's prioritise getting Aboriginal people the skills, training and experience so that they can contribute to the workforce. From administration to allied health, GPs and obstetricians, we need more Aboriginal people delivering health care. I know this because I have seen it up close. We know that these people are the role models for their communities and that they can demonstrate what is possible and what can be achieved and how people can give back to their communities.

I met Kelvin Kong today, an Aboriginal doctor and ear, nose and throat surgeon who understands just how important it is to give young kids opportunities early in life through appropriate interventions when it comes to ear health. When young children cannot hear, they cannot learn language skills. They cannot learn at school. They are behind the eight ball right from the very start. There are simple things that we can do to ensure that we close the gap.

In finishing, let me just say that this is an opportunity for a new way forward. It is my great hope that the government and the opposition—indeed, the entire parliament—will take up this challenge. Please note that the Greens will be with you every step of the way.